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Feb 20 2014

Stuck in the Shabbat Limbo

By at 4:02 pm

Doing Shabbat, my way

It was my second time meeting with Chana with the hopes of renting her Jerusalem apartment. I was in Israel on a research grant and following an ulpan (intensive Hebrew immersion course) in Jerusalem, had moved to Tel Aviv to be closer to my university. After just a few weeks of living by the water, I felt pulled back to Jerusalem.

Chana went through a checklist of the idiosyncrasies of the apartment. It would be furnished and I would not need to, nor would I be permitted to, bring my own bed. The school across the street could be loud at lunchtime. There was no dishwasher, of course, but I was welcome to use the laundry machine provided. And then almost as an afterthought she added, “Shabbat. Of course you keep Shabbat.”

“Well,” I started. And that was the beginning of the end. “I may turn on the lights here and there.”

“No. No turning on and off the lights. You must keep Shabbat.”

“But—,”

“No. No. I cannot. My friend rented to someone like you and first she had a car accident. Then…” her voice trailed off. “No. I cannot take the risk.” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 14 2014

Turns Out Shabbat and Valentine’s Day Have a Lot in Common

By at 11:43 am

shabbat

Tonight I’m planning dinner by candlelight. It will engage all five senses, with attention lavished on the tiniest details, including our wedding china instead of Corelle, and soup that requires a trip to the butcher instead of just a can opener. They say oysters are an aphrodisiac, but I’m banking on the kneidelach my husband likes: the firmer, the better. Ah, February 14th.

Isn’t this how Shabbat should always go?

My kids’ preschool director sent an email out reminding parents that “we celebrate love and caring all year long, but we do not celebrate Valentine’s Day at school.” Last V-Day, when my son found a cupcake in his cubby with the Post-It note reading “Baked with love in our kosher home,” he thought it was a happy coincidence.

No valentines, no candy hearts–would Friday be any fun? Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 13 2014

Why I Added Some Jewish Learning to My Over-Scheduled Life

By at 12:15 pm

why I added Jewish learning to my life

I am undoubtedly overwhelmed, overextended, and stretched too thin on any given day, at any given moment. A 3-year-old son, almost 10-month-old twin daughters, a home to maintain, a small business we are trying to grow, a new photography venture, articles to write, a cooking club, and a few other activities all make my life insanely chaotic and wonderful.

Then why did I commit myself to one more thing? Because, if you notice the list above, there was nothing dedicated to being Jewish. I am committed to raising my children in a Jewish home, but was I doing enough to achieve that just by sending my son to the daycare at the local JCC? So when I was invited to join Chai Mitzvah, a women’s learning group at my synagogue, I jumped at the chance. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 7 2014

Can I Ask My Non-Jewish Babysitter to Do Shabbat?

By at 1:00 pm

Can I ask my non-Jewish babysitter to do Shabbat?

Love our children though we may, inevitably my husband and I will eventually have commitments on Friday night. Luckily, we have the world’s most fantastic babysitter. Our children run to her when she comes through the door. Last time she left, our toddler clung to her leg and blurted out, “Miss Megan, I ruv you.” Like any good parent, I’ve instructed her to start failing her college courses so that she won’t graduate quite so fast and leave us, tearful, in her successful dust.

She’s not Jewish, and like most of our community, matters of faith don’t tend to come up regularly. However, now that Shabbat on Fridays is part of our family rhythm, I’m not sure how to approach her about it.

Don’t let me fool you. Our Shabbat practice is not picturesque nor extensive. It is a barefoot, pants-less, baby-on-the-countertop kind of thing. As we discover what traditions work for us, more often than not the mood absorbs the anxiety that comes with “don’t let the toddler grab the lighter!” than any sort of Shabbat peace. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 28 2014

The Glamorous Housewife’s Guide to Hosting Shabbat Dinner

By at 11:42 am

mom

Ever tried hosting your own Shabbat dinner and felt a touch… overwhelmed? Bethany from The Glamorous Housewife is here to help with her new series on Kveller.

Hi there! My name is Bethany Herwegh and I am The Glamorous Housewife. I am thrilled to be starting a new series here on Kveller regarding all things Shabbat dinner. I started making Shabbat meals about nine years ago and I now host about 35-40 meals per year. So though I am not a chef, I do know a few things about cooking and hostessing a dinner party, and I would like to share that knowledge with you.

Once a month I will be laying out an easy and tasty dinner meal based on seasonal products that are geared for the unskilled at-home cook. I know how intimidating it can be to have people over for dinner, especially if you are not experienced around the kitchen, but I think I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I would like to teach you so you too can enjoy all that Shabbat dinner has to offer.

I am starting with a simple winter meal with big bold flavors but not much effort. The main dish is maple dijon chicken with fresh rosemary and is supported by roasted brussels sprouts with a garlic dipping sauce, mashed potatoes, a roasted squash salad, and for dessert, a raspberry and chocolate trifle. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 24 2014

Friday Night: Thank God for C-Sections

By at 11:27 am

thank god for c-sections

I was born a contradiction. On the Sabbath, the day we are commanded to rest, I prompted my mother to labor and deliver me into the world. So it’s fitting that I struggle with the God thing still.

Soon after we gave birth to our first kids, one of my dearest friends confided in me that pregnancy and childbirth made her feel closer to God than ever before.

Huh. Not me.

I tried to figure out why.

From early on in my pregnancy, I needed to see it to believe it. I waited until I saw the results of the home pregnancy test before embracing the possibility. I waited longer still for the first ultrasound to feel like it was actually happening. It wasn’t real until I had proof. Some have faith; I wanted certainty.

Childbirth also called my beliefs into question. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 10 2014

Friday Night: Learning to Bake & Braid at the Same Time

By at 12:14 pm

photo (7) copy

I learned to braid and to bake at the same time. At my mother’s side, we mixed packets of yeast with warm water to let it proof, melted butter and stirred it together with eggs, milk, and honey, and added flour to make it a soft, pliable dough. She got the recipe for this sweetened and enriched challah from a roommate’s great-grandmother, who brought it with her from Europe.

“Push it away with the heel of your hands, then fold it over and pull it towards you,” she instructed, teaching me how to knead the dough. After the dough was springy and resilient, we placed it in a greased bowl to rise in a warm place. In the fall and winter, which is when we most often made honey-egg bread, we placed it on the edge of the kitchen counter, closest to the woodstove in the next room. We swaddled the bowl in a dishtowel.

After an hour, we lifted back the towel to see the dough, puffed out to double its size. My mother told me to punch it down, and we pried it out of the bowl and kneaded some more. She then cut it into equal pieces, three or six, depending on how many loaves we were making, or if we were making one big braid with a baby braid on top. We shaped each piece into a long, skinny snake, rolling on a floured board or between our hands in the air. Our golden retriever lay at our feet, hopeful for a dropped piece of dough. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 20 2013

Friday Night: We Survived Our First Year in the Suburbs

By at 12:28 pm

kids swinging in the suburbs

About a week ago, a friend posted on her Facebook page: “Happy Houseiversary!”

She and her family had been living in their new home for a year (a home that happens to be across the road from my home. Hi, Lori!)

I saw Lori’s post, checked the calendar, and immediately felt shame. Just a week before Lori’s houseiversary, we had a houseiversary, too. It’s just that I hadn’t noticed. I didn’t mention it to my husband, and he didn’t mention it to me. I didn’t post it on Facebook, or give it much thought, at all. In fact, when people ask us how long we’ve been living in our new home, in our new town, we usually mumble, “Uh, a year? About a year? Maybe a little less than a year?” (For the record: one year, three weeks, and five days.)

I’ve blogged on Kveller a bunch about my ambivalence about the suburbs. First I wondered if I was old enough to own a house and then I wondered if the suburbs would make my kids boring. There was a post where I asked, “Will we find people like us?” and one where I tried to instruct readers on how to “close on a house and not freak out.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 13 2013

Friday Night: A Shabbat Storm in Israel

By at 2:19 pm

photo (6) copy

When we first moved to this little house in an Israeli village with a bomb-ass view of rolling fields, it wasn’t really the home I’d choose: The floors are cracked and uneven. The walls are thin. There are mold stains on the ceiling.

But it wasn’t really a choice: We needed a home.

So,  I looked beyond the flimsy walls and bare bulbs that dangled from the ceiling. I squinted and said, “We need pictures on the walls.”

So I went to the mall, printed out family photos (from now, and from way back then when my mother was little), and hung them in frames where they fill the blank spaces.

I squinted again and said, “This place will look way prettier with soft warm light instead of the sterile light that shines from most Israeli bulbs.”

So, I went to the store and bought new bulbs. And everything looks better with ambient light. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 8 2013

Friday Night: What Does “I Want Shabbat” Mean in Autism Speak?

By at 11:47 am

cut slices of challah

“I want Shabbat,” my son Benjamin proclaimed on a recent Saturday afternoon as the guests we’d invited over for lunch milled about the house. I looked up from the salad I was throwing together, certain I’d misunderstood him. Shabbat is something we do every week in our house, yet something Benjamin, now 10 years old, had never once acknowledged. But then he said it again.

Benjamin has autism, and with his variation of the disorder comes serious language impairments that make it insanely difficult for him to do something that most of us take for granted; to identify the thoughts he wants to express, find the corresponding words, and then actually put those words out into the world. Communicating is an Everest-scaling level challenge for him, and because of that, Benjamin has become quite adept at paring it down to the basics.

And we, in turn, have become quite adept at interpreting the collection of compact lines he has curated over the years in order to get his needs met. More difficult is decoding the subtext, although we have become increasingly skilled at that part, too. Read the rest of this entry →

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